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Reisverslag Dark tourism – Riga
17 oktober 2014
Dark tourism – Riga
As you might know dark tourism is related to tourism which connects death and suffering. This means you are going to a place where you can get in touch with death and or suffering. For example, a concentration camp, cemetery, ground zero, Amsterdam dungeon, Madame Tussauds etc.
For this subject we had a field trip to a few attractions in Riga. These attraction were the KGB museum, the grand cemetery and the Lipke museum.
This morning we, Robin, Tatevik and I, joined two other classmates who would go by car to Riga. The first stop was the KGB museum.
Small information about the KGB museum:
The Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopanosti of the Soviet Union, also known as the KGB, was established in March 1954 in Moscow. This organization was originally designed to be a state security committee and was attached to the Council of Ministers. However, it operated more independently than any of the other bodies of government within the Soviet Union. The KGB was the world’s largest spy and state-security machine, involved in all aspects of life of everyday people in the Soviet Union. The KGB was a secretive and secluded organization, and it has been said that, “Its doors are shut tightly to the public.”
The KGB museum in Riga is one of the most feared places in Latvia during Soviet times, but now people are flocking to the former KGB headquarters in the capital Riga, keen to uncover its dark secrets.
My experience in the KGB museum:
The moment we entered the building, I saw shock and the latvian students be scared. When we came in a room, we were explained about the fact that everyone came through here to fill in paperwork regarding who they are, what they are doing and then they would be taken towards the cells who are behind these buildings.
Before heading to the cells we went to the investigation room. Here, most people were investigated and tortured in hope that they would admit in any possible way that they commited the crime where they were arrested for. Most people knew just in the investigation room why they were actually arrested. If people admitted it they got straight away a sentence which meant deathsentence or 5, 10, 15, 20 or the maximum 25 years, including 5 years of no contact with family or friends, deported to Siberia. If people didn’t admit it they were placed in the cells. In the cells, the biggest cell looked approx 6m by 4m, herein were more than 30 people placed. During the night there was a very bright light as well as a lot of noice. It was also very warm in the cells, this was due to the fact that they wanted to make sure that the people didn’t sleep as much as well as losing moisture. They got only a few times some water and some food. Once a two weeks they were allowed to shower. Randomly people were taking to be tortured; till they admitted they did something. For example: A grandfather was arrested for reading ‘’too western books’’. His son was arrested for ‘’reading the books of his father’’. And his son, the grandson, was arrested for ‘’possibly in the future reading the books’’. Ridiculous if you think about it. After the cells we went outside and I felt like I was a bird in a cage. After that we saw the kitchen as well as the staircase, this story shocked me most. A few of the investigation rooms were on the 6th floor while the cells were on the ground floor. What happened, when a person was brought to the investigation room they had to walk the stairs, they were not allowed to hold the handrail. To make sure, noone would see each other, they had a light in the whole staircase. If it was green the guard with the person could enter the room. If it was red the guard with the person couldn’t enter the room. This means that sometimes climbing up for some people could have taken 1 hour and the other one who needs to go to the investigation room has to wait downstairs. This means you have to wait a whole lot longer to know you might be getting tortured and then you have to climb the stairs which is quit hard if you don’t have any moisture or food in your body. This is already a mental torture before even getting to the investigation rooms.
After this we saw a few rooms where the KGB, guards lived. After this we went outside and talked a little bit about the KGB museum before walking outside and taking the trams to the Grand cemetery.
First some information regarding the Grand Cemetery:
Lielie kapi Cemetery is an architectural landmark of state importance with memorial tombs, a burial ground and park owned by the Latvian Lutheran Church. The park covers 22 hectares.
My experience of the Grand Cemetery:
We walked around the Grand cemetery like we were walking in a park, however everywhere around the park were tombstones or small houses were people were burried. It was a strange feeling walking in a cemetery where it looked like you were walking in a park since people are running around or strolling they baby around. We saw one lady running while pushing her baby in a trolley while taking the dog outside. Therefore she was multitasking. But this is definitely a strange location while it is at the same time a cemetary. (For an idea check: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ssCbK-rFIE)
After this we walked around and took a small lunch before taking the bus to the Lipke memorial.
Some information about the Lipke memorial:
Žanis Lipke Memorial is dedicated to a brave man who saved more than 50 Jews from Nazis during the Second World War by hiding them in a bunker under a shed. The memorial building shows the living conditions of the saved ones as close as possible; here you will find an exciting exhibition and a very interesting architecture.
My experience regarding the Lipke memorial:
The Lipke memorial museum was on a location which is hard to find. If you don’t know where it is, you would not be able to find it. The moment we opened the door we walked into a hall way were it was totally dark and there was a pathway, we had to follow the pathway to the entrance of the museum. At the entrance of the museum, the guide told us about the Lipke memorial before walking upstairs to get more explanations and see everyone who helped the people during this hard time. We also saw the places where the people were hidden. The interesting thing to me was the fact that people had to exists. An main entrance/exit, however they had also an extra door in case people were found that they could escape. The most interesting thing is that this all was made by the Lipke family, dugged by hand.
After this museum we, Robin and I went to the busstation to get the bus to Ventspils (see my next story).
This was an very interesting day.
Foto's bij verslag (1)
20 oktober 2014 14:36 | Door: Désirée
Wat een enge organisatie was die KGB. Hopelijk heb je 's nachts wel kunnen slapen.
21 oktober 2014 17:34 | Door: corien
Your story reminds me of all the stories I heard and documents and book I read about WW2 in the Netherlands. The Lipke family in Latvia was very brave, but also extreem exceptional. I'm glad that nowadays the country is honouring this heroin family. Almost the whole Jewish population of Latvia was killed in Latvian pogroms and finally by the German occupiers.
After the war there was still repression, now Russian repression, like Désirée wrote this KGB was a real nightmare. I hope this Dark Period in Latvian history is now really past tense.
Thank you for sharing this impressive story with us.
Hmmm, I think I prefer Sunny Tourism instead of Dark Tourism.....